Thursday, September 9, 2010

Maximizing Self-Interest

The NY Times has a good series of reports running on their website currently, written by a US Army lieutenent who was stationed in Kandahar. Unlike most of the high-level analysis offered by traditional news sources, Lt. Srinavasan's stuff is local, personal and micro-scale news, about his day-to-day challenges in dealing with Afghans in his sector. (I believe that he's writing about stuff that happened on his recent deployment, rather than posting real-time events.)

His latest column is chock full of interesting tidbits about the intricacies of dealing with locals, and neatly captures the shift that comes over an officious Afghan army officer when he realizes that he's not going to be able to take advantage of the newbies.

Unfortuately, the lieutenent's conclusions are probably spot-on:
But Captain Kalay represented to me the greatest frustration and disappointment of all: no matter how many troops, how much time, or how much money we throw at Afghanistan, no democracy can take hold and nothing will change unless this country’s leaders want it for their own nation. Captain Kalay is a powerful man — he has no incentive to want anything more than the status quo.........I was right about one thing though; this is indeed a math problem, not only to me, but also to Captain Kalay and every Afghan leader in this country. It’s about the maximization of self-interest. No matter how much Captain Kalay likes me, or even identifies with me, it doesn’t change the fact that he will act only to maximize his personal gain.

The truth of that was recently brought home to me when I was alerted to the fact that a man I considered a close friend in Afghanistan, and one of the best Afghans I had met thus far, was not as clean and as honest as I thought he was. He wasn't stealing from me directly, but he had kept certain information to himself and taken credit and profited personally from something I had worked very hard on. To make matters worse, the story of his deception was provided to me by another Afghan I had also considered to be trustworthy, but the revelation is causing me to question the trust I place in him as well.* Now I'm left wondering what kind of payment he will expect in return for revealing this secret.

*And yes, I did confirm the story through independent sources.

First installment of Lt. Srinavasan's story here. Second and third, here and here.


Sam Fletcher said...

I wonder how much of that is ingrained Afghan culture, versus how much is trying to "opportunize" on a war?

psfc said...

Sam's got a perceptive question...all the more so because most will automatically assume that this corruption is a part of Afghan culture.

Rajiv Srinivasan said...

Thanks for the compliments, P6. I appreciate the support and glad you enjoyed the articles. Let me know if there's ever anything I can do.
-rajiv srinivasan

Largo Chimp said...

It's interesting you ran across Rajiv's articles. I've been reading both your blogs because unprocessed news from Afghanistan is hard to find, and I don't have much faith in the large media producers.

Your blog about Tiger got me, though. When it comes to love and loyalty, dogs are better than most people you'll meet anywhere. War sucks.

Anonymous said...

appreciate your postings